Showing posts with label relative privation fallacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label relative privation fallacy. Show all posts

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Conscience, Persecution, and Sins of Omission

It is common sense that nobody wants to suffer if they can avoid it. It’s also true that the Church does not demand we seek out persecution. But, if conscience does put us at odds with a government, we have to accept suffering or even death rather than do what is morally wrong. This has always been our obligation. We cannot appeal to what a feared government might do in our time if we don’t compromise on what we believe to avoid that evil. That means we can’t try to appease this immoral government might do if elected, and it means we can’t violate our conscience to block the immoral government from taking power.

That doesn’t mean we have to be passive sheep, taking no action against evil. It does mean we can’t do evil so good may come of it. That’s hard because sinful nature leads us to justify wrongdoing by excusing the evil done by saying either it’s not evil or it’s not important. So, some Catholics try justifying a vote for a pro-abortion candidate by downplaying the evil of abortion compared to issues they just happen to agree with. Other Catholics try to downplay the evils the other candidate does or supports by arguing it’s not important compared to the evils they’re trying to stop.

Catholics have used both tactics, fearing what the more loathed candidate will do. That doesn’t mean they’re acting out of bad will. Some Catholics might be sincere and are unaware they have reasoned badly, putting them in opposition to the Church without realizing it. That’s a reminder we should always be evaluating our views in comparison to what the Church teaches. One thing I’ve learned over decades of studying Catholic teaching is just because we don’t know the answer to something doesn’t mean there is no answer.

Don t panic

I believe we must start by not panicking. 2017 will not be the first year the Catholic Church was ever persecuted. Nor is it likely to be the worst persecution ever experienced. To be honest, I suspect Christians living in ISIS held territory wish they had our problems instead of theirs. I don’t want to commit the fallacy of relative privation here. It’s false to say because we’re not suffering as badly as another group of people, it means we’re not suffering. No, what I mean is we need to realize that the world has persecuted the Church in different ways and to different degrees throughout history. So it may wind up being our turn to take a stand even if it means ostracism, lawsuits, fines, or imprisonment.

What makes this frightening is that we have been unjustly harassed by the government, but we haven’t physically suffered for our beliefs. Now we might, and we want to avoid this at all costs. That can be dangerous. During Diocletian’s persecution in the early fourth century, Christians who had been undergoing a period of relative respite and safety were suddenly targeted all across the Roman Empire. Caught by surprise, many yielded to the state rather than suffer. That’s the danger of being so afraid of suffering that we betray Our Lord.

Like I said above, It’s natural that Catholics are trying to make the best of a bad situation and limit the evil suffered. But, again, we can’t do evil so good may come of it (see CCC #1756, 1789). That means we can’t violate our conscience (which we have an obligation to form by the teaching of the Church) and we can’t call evil “not important” to justify embracing a bad means to seek protection. That means we need to be aware of what the Church teaches and why it’s important so we don’t treat evil as unimportant. We need to seriously consider the proposed solution to see if it requires us to violate our conscience by choosing to do evil or to tolerate an evil which outweighs the good sought.

What people are getting wrong is this: It’s not a case of saying, “I will tolerate the lesser evil from candidate X to stop abortion or World War III.” It’s about saying, “I will be silent about these evils so candidate X will win and stop abortion or World War III.” It’s choosing to commit a sin of omission so good might come from it—and the Church condemns doing evil so good may come of it. Even if someone thinks Candidate X is more likely to limit evil, we can’t be silent about his or her own evils. So, even if we want to vote for Candidate X, we have to make clear we will oppose that evil if he or she is elected and insist that the candidate repent of that position—and that is what American Catholics are not doing. Instead, Catholics who support one of the major parties are telling others to be silent on these evils lest they get the wrong person elected.

God tells us to be holy and keep His commandments. The Penitential Rite at Mass requires us to say,

I confess to almighty God

and to you, my brothers and sisters,

that I have greatly sinned,

in my thoughts and in my words,

in what I have done and in what I have failed to do

There’s no secret that we sin if we do wrong, if we fail to do right, and if we fail to speak against sin. If we are sorry for our sins, we must make a firm purpose of amendment, to go and sin no more. Yes, we may fall into the same sins again. But that is different from having the intention to continue in the same sin, refusing to change.

Where does that leave us? It forces each one of us to consider what the Church teaches and where a preferred candidate stands. If the candidate promotes evil, we cannot be silent about it, and we certainly can’t accept a candidate who openly says they will do intrinsic evil (which includes abortion). So, if we must vote for a candidate whose evil seems less than the other candidate, we cannot be silent about the other candidate’s evil out of fear this candidate will lose if we speak out. Is it possible this will lead to persecution? It is. But in this case, it would be a persecution we would have to accept because to be silent when we must speak is to do evil, and to do evil so good might come of it is forbidden to us.

So, let us do what our properly formed conscience tells us to do and recognize that we must do what is right before God—even if persecution comes as a result.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Persecution: American Style

Western nations attacking Christians don’t normally use the violent, brutal attacks we associate with the term “persecution.” Because of that, it is easy to pretend that Western Christians are not targeted for their beliefs. But that’s the fallacy of relative privation. The fact that attacks on Christians in Country A are far worse than harassment of Christians in Country B does not mean the situation in Country B is not unjust.

In the West, attacks on Christians begin over teachings against popular vices. Foes portray Christian opposition to moral wrongs as hating the people who commit them. Then they accuse Christians of violating an esteemed cultural value out of bad will. These accusations justify laws (or, more commonly, executive action and court rulings) against the alleged wrongdoing of Christians. When Christians insist on obeying their faith despite unjust laws, foes harass them by Criminal and Civil complaints aimed at forcing compliance. 

Political and cultural elites argue that the injustice is just a consequence of Christians doing wrong. If they would abandon their “bigotry,” they would not face legal harassment. The problem is, they accuse us of wrongdoing, but we are not guilty of wrongdoing. We deny that we base our moral beliefs on the hatred of people who do what we profess is wrong. They must prove their accusation. People cannot simply assume it is true.

In response, foes bring up the bigoted behavior of a few who profess to be Christians. The Westboro Baptist Church was a popularly cited bugbear before the group fell into obscurity. They argue that groups like this prove bigotry on the part of Christians. This means that those who deplore stereotypes stereotype us. They claim (and we agree) that people can’t assume all Muslims are terrorists or that all Hispanics are illegal aliens just because some are. But they do use fringe group Christians to argue all Christians are bigots.

To avoid guilt in this persecution, Americans must learn that our believing certain acts are morally wrong does not mean we hate those who do those acts. Yes, some Christians confuse opposing evil with hating evil-doers. You condemn them. But so do we. Just behavior demands you investigate accusations against Christians, not assuming our moral beliefs are proof of our guilt and claiming the only defense is to renounce our beliefs.

Please, do not try to equate our moral objections with America’s shameful legacy of slavery and segregation. We don’t deny the human rights of any sinner—for then we would have to deny them to ourselves—but we do deny that law can declare a sinful act the same as a morally good act. Do not assume we want to reinstate laws and punishments from past centuries to punish sinners. We’re also shocked by what nations saw as necessary to deter crime that harmed society [1]. But saying theft is wrong does not mean we think chopping off the hands of a thief is right. Even when an act is evil, there can be unjust and disproportionate punishments in response.

Also, please do not assume that your lack of knowledge of what we believe and why we believe it means we have no justification but bigotry when we say things are wrong, Just because a foe cannot imagine why we believe X is wrong does not mean we have no valid reason. I can speak only as a Catholic [I leave it to the Orthodox and Protestants to explain their own reasons when it differs with the Catholic reasoning] but we do have 2000 years of moral theology looking into acts, why they are wrong and what to remember for the moral considerations about personal responsibility. Our goal is not coercion or punishment. Our goal is reconciling the sinner with God. That means turning away from wrongdoing and doing what is right.

Foes may say they think our ideas of morality are wrong. But if they believe we are wrong, then they have an obligation to show why they are right and we are wrong—with the same obligation to answer criticisms of their claims that they demand of us. They cannot accuse us of “forcing views on others” and then demand we accept their views without question. That’s not the values America was founded over. That’s partisan hypocrisy worthy of the old Soviet Union, and should have no part in American discourse.




[1] Of course, remember that France as a secular nation did not abolish the guillotine until 1980, so perhaps we shouldn’t think we’re so far ahead of those times as we would like to think?